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Falcons vs. Packers: The all-important battle in the trenches and 5 other things to know

Posted Sep 14, 2017

The key matchup for Sunday night as well as five other pieces of information you should know.

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- If recent history is any indication, there will be plenty of points scored in the first NFL regular-season game played at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

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In each of their two games last season, the Falcons (1-0) and the Packers (1-0) combined to score 65 points. In their 2014 matchup, a combined 80 points were scored. It’s a good thing the roof of Mercedes-Benz Stadium will be open on Sunday night, because with two of the best quarterback in the NFL going at it, there’s reason to believe this game could turn into a fireworks show. 

As we preview this upcoming game, let’s get into the key matchup for Sunday night as well as five other pieces of information you should know.

KEY MATCHUP: Falcons’ run game vs. Packers’ front seven

With the run game stifled in their season-opener against the Bears, the Falcons offense failed to develop a consistent rhythm and hit the number of explosive plays we’ve become accustomed to seeing. Much of Atlanta’s passing attack is predicated on play-action, which requires running the ball effectively.

Against Green Bay, the running game will have to get back on track.

“It’s another really stout front,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said of the Packers defense. “Just to name a few guys like Mike Daniels and Nick Perry who were active in the game (against Seattle). For our consistency, oftentimes we’ll notice there’s like a breakdown at one player that can affect the entire play. It wasn’t where we had some opportunities. We thought if we could be more consistent and make sure when the time comes to nail that run, we nail it.

“That’s one thing for sure. For us, our play action goes hand-in-hand with our run game. When that part of our game comes alive even better, we think the run game will as well.”

In the Packers’ 17-9 win against the Seahawks, Daniels and Perry, who play defensive end and linebacker, respectively, proved to be a difficult duo to contain. Daniels finished the game with seven tackles, four hits on the quarterback, 1.5 sacks, one forced fumble and a tackle for loss, while Perry recorded three tackles, two quarterbacks hits, 1.5 sacks and a tackle for loss.

As a whole, Green Bay’s defense limited Seattle to just 90 yards on the ground – 40 of which came on two Russell Wilson runs. After struggling to contain the Bears’ defensive line, the Falcons will need perform better in the trenches against what may be a tougher defensive front.

If the Falcons offense is going to rebound in the home opener, the run game will likely need to play a much bigger role than it did last week. Of course, with players like Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, short passes can be an extension of the team’s ground game. However it gets done, Atlanta will need to become more multi-dimensional against Green Bay.

Five more things to know about Falcons-Packers

1. Julio has a strong history of bouncing back

Let’s be clear, Julio Jones’ stat line from Week 1 – four catches for 66 yards – should in no way be considered a poor performance. He caught 80 percent of the passes thrown his way and gained 16.5 yards per catch, which is a pretty strong outing.

If anything, the concern some fans have about his usage or output only serves to illustrate how dominant he can really be. Luckily, if the past is any indication, Jones could be in line for a big game on Sunday night.

Over the past three years, in the games following ones in which he was held under 70 receiving yards, Jones has averaged 6.9 catches for 114.9 yards and .5 touchdowns. As impressive as that stat line is, he was even better at bouncing back last season. Jones was held under 70 yards six times during the 2016 regular season, in the following games he averaged 7.6 catches for 144.2 yards and .8 touchdowns.

2. Packers added some ‘nitro’ to their defense

This offseason, Green Bay added a new twist to their defensive packages. Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers added the “nitro” package this year to allow his defense to have more speed on the field at the same time. In this package, Green Bay will have two defensive linemen, four linebackers, with safety Morgan Burnett moving to one of the inside linebacker spots, and five defensive backs.

The thinking behind this, according to ESPN’s Rob Demovsky, is that it gives the defense added speed in coverage without sacrificing too much in run defense. Demovsky noted that the Packers used this package on 42 of their 49 defensive snaps in their Week 1 win against Seattle, and he expects the Falcons to see a lot of it this weekend.

3. Aaron Rodgers’ hidden talent for drawing penalties on the defense

By now, everyone knows what Aaron Rodgers can do on the field once the ball is snapped, but before a play even begins he can give a defense fits. According to nflpenalties.com, Green Bay’s opponents were called for having 12 men on the field six times last season, which was the second-highest total in the league behind Indianapolis (7).

When this happens, or he’s able to draw a defenders offsides, it allows Rodgers to have a free play. With no risk involved, Rodgers can gamble even more and take deep shots down the field without the fear of turning the ball over.

Falcons defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel understands this part of Rodgers’ game well.

“That’s the cool part about Aaron,” Manuel said. “Having played with him, that’s one of the things he excels at – turning it into a normal football game, catching you at every moment that you’re not thinking about. And sometimes guys get lax. Like when you see guys jump offsides, he’ll hit you with the hard count, the silent count. Things of that nature.”

Rodgers doesn’t need any free plays to make something special happen, though. In his seven games against the Falcons, including playoffs, Rodgers has averaged a 70 percent completion rate, 325.6 passing yards, three total touchdowns and .3 interceptions.

It’s nearly impossible to shut him down, but here are five things the Falcons can do to slow down Rodgers on Sunday.

4. Bryant approaching field goal No. 200 as a Falcon

The next time Matt Bryant successfully kicks a field goal, he will become the first player in franchise history to make 200 field goals with the Falcons. It would be Bryant’s 338th field goal in his 16-year NFL career, which ranks 19th all-time. Only five kickers have made 200-plus field goals since Bryant joined the Falcons in 2009.

5. Falcons in good shape injury-wise; Packers banged up

The Falcons had full participation in Thursday’s practice, which is very good news heading into a much-anticipated Sunday night matchup.

“The big news from an injury standpoint: Everyone’s practicing today, and Alex Mack will be full go,” Quinn said on Thursday.

Green Bay, meanwhile, is dealing with a few injuries, particularly along the offensive line. Here is a rundown from their injury report for Thursday’s practice.

  • LB Ahmad Brooks (concussion) – did not participate
  • OT Bryan Bulaga (ankle/illness) – did not participate
  • OT Jason Spriggs (hamstring) – did not participate
  • DT Montravius Adams (foot) – limited
  • OT Dave Bakhtiari (hamstring) – limited
  • S Kentrell Brice (quadricep/knee) - limited
  • DT Mike Daniels (hip) - limited

Please Note

The opinions, analysis and/or speculation expressed on AtlantaFalcons.com represent those of the individual authors. Unless quoted or clearly labeled as such, do not represent the opinions or policies of the Atlanta Falcons’ organization, front office staff, coaches and executives. The writers’ views are formulated independently from any inside knowledge and/or conversations with Falcons officials, including the coaches and scouts, unless otherwise noted.